The Hard Truths of Working in Entertainment by Mark Pitts

For an industry that has perpetuated a deluded and unrealistic standard of beauty in American pop culture for generations, the entertainment industry is ironically being exposed for the ugly truths that hide behind its airbrushed facade.

With movements such as #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, and #TimesUp, the sinister inner workings that have been swept under the rug for decades have recently been making front page news across the world. While there have been venerable concerted efforts to proactively right these past wrongs by taking an active stance against workplace sexual harassment and making a deliberate effort to promote diversity, there are still many underlying issues that are systemic in the entertainment industry that arise partly because of the homogenous workforce that runs Hollywood.

While there continues to be an ongoing open dialogue about the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, the conversation is almost always centered on the lack of representation on camera, which only scratches the surface of the systemic issue at hand.

With 96% of the top film executives running the 18 major studios being white and 87% of them being male, these reactionary attempts to depict an accurate portrayal of the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the United States are completely at the whim of the white male executives who at any time can decide to change the direction of the films they greenlight.

Despite the industry’s alleged commitment to changing for the better, promoting diverse talent can, at best, be another trend akin to superhero movies or lazy book adaptations if film and television executives are unwilling to take a deep, introspective look in to who wields the power within the industry.

While change within the industry should start from the top-down, the most effective way to ensure that diverse talent will grow into positions of power is to completely change the hiring process for recent graduates.

For decades, the entertainment industry has operated under an apprenticeship system steeped in nepotism. Only the sons and daughters of Hollywood’s power players knew about the elusive positions that await them behind the camera, tucked away in the nondescript studio offices that surround the soundstages. Also, with the industry’s volatility that is constantly subject to different trends and changes in taste, success is unfortunately not guaranteed even after years of hard work. As a result, the few who can rise to the top are either the most passionate who are willing to sacrifice for years to pursue their dreams or those who have generational wealth to cushion them while they pursue their dreams.

For many recent graduates, particularly those who have taken out student loans to help finance their education, taking a job that pays the same rate as a fast food cashier and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country is simply not a realistic option especially when these students must pay off their student debt while they simultaneously try to establish some semblance of financial security.

One way to fundamentally change the power structures within the entertainment industry is to change how the major companies approach hiring the recent graduates who will eventually take the reins of power.

While the top investment banks, consulting firms, and Fortune 500 companies actively recruit on college campuses and host various information sessions, networking events, and workshops to entice the brightest and most promising talent, most top entertainment companies consciously avoid having a noticeable presence on campus and instead rely on the top young talent to approach them.

If an entertainment company decides to host an event on campus, it will likely be at a school like USC, UCLA, NYU, or an Ivy where many of these students are either already aware of the different career opportunities within the entertainment industry or have the financial flexibility to take a chance on a career that does not immediately promise a sustainable salary.

Furthermore, for students who do not attend these target schools, finding adequate resources on the available career opportunities can be a challenge as many of the top companies are notoriously vague about their available positions for recent graduates.

Talent agencies like WME, CAA, and UTA, which act as the nucleus of the entertainment industry and thus the breeding grounds for Hollywood’s young talent, are especially infamous for their mailroom and trainee programs that only open their doors to those who already have a connection within the company. Consequently, when studios and networks turn to the top talent agencies to fill their vacant executive assistant, producer coordinator, and writer’s assistant positions that can turn in to junior executive level positions, they are only further insulating the bubble they are trying to burst.

While it is unlikely that the top entertainment companies will increase their pay rates, the major talent agencies that act as the gatekeepers to the rest of the industry are actively revamping their hiring processes to have a more inclusive workforce that better reflects the multinational, multiethnic nation that we live in today.

WME and UTA, for example, have recently changed their hiring processes so that 50% of their incoming trainee classes are either women or people of color. Moreover, CAA has taken an active approach to scout for talent at HBCUs and hosts writer’s workshops for women and underrepresented minorities as well as roadshows at the different studios to promote their director clients who are women and people of color.

Also, with the tech industry’s recent forays in to content creation and distribution, companies like Netflix and Amazon who have a large financial backing and are less risk averse than the major studios are offering more opportunities to undiscovered diverse talent. These companies also offer their employees a very competitive starting salary, which is a beacon of hope for those groups of people who cannot afford to live off a below-market salary before they enter their career track.

Despite the long road to a Hollywood that is truly reflective of the racial and multinational diversity in America, there are encouraging signs that the insiders in entertainment are making active attempts to change the demographics of the industry.

Furthermore, with the box office success of Black Panther as well as critical acclaim for shows like Black-ish, Atlanta, and Queen Sugar, audiences across America have shown the Hollywood insiders that hiring diverse talent is indeed a profitable decision.

 

Mark is a New York based writer with roots in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Graduating from the University of Southern California, Mark is pursuing his passion for film and television with a career in the entertainment industry with work experience at some of the best companies in the industry such as NBCUniversal, William Morris Endeavor (WME), and HBO

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